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The life and works of john locke an english philosopher

His father, also named John, was a legal clerk and served with the Parliamentary forces in the English Civil War. His family was well-to-do, but not of particularly high social or economic standing. Locke spent his childhood in the West Country and as a teenager was sent to Westminster School in London. Locke was successful at Westminster and earned a place at Christ Church, Oxford. He was to remain in Oxford from 1652 until 1667.

Although he had little appreciation for the traditional scholastic philosophy he learned there, Locke was successful as a student and after completing his undergraduate degree he held a series of administrative and academic posts in the college.

One of his earliest substantive works, the Essays on the Law of Nature, was developed in the course of his teaching duties. Locke read widely in these fields, participated in various experiments, and became acquainted with Robert Boyle and many other notable natural philosophers.

He also undertook the normal course of education and training to become a physician. In London, Locke continued to pursue his interests in medicine and natural philosophy. He formed a close working relationship with Thomas Sydenham, who later became one the most famous physicians of the age.

He made a number of contacts within the newly formed Royal Society and became a member in 1668. He also acted as the personal physician to Lord Ashley.

Indeed, on one occasion Locke participated in a very delicate surgical operation which Ashley credited with saving his life. Ashley was one of the most prominent English politicians at the time.

Through his patronage Locke was able to hold a series of governmental posts. The two earliest drafts of that work date from 1671. He was to continue work on this project intermittentlyfor nearly twenty years. Locke travelled in France for several years starting in 1675. When he returned to England it was only to be for a few years. The political scene had changed greatly while Locke was away. It was around this time that Locke composed his most famous political work, the Two Treatises Concerning Government.

Although the Two Treatises would not be published until 1689 they show that he had already solidified his views on the nature and proper form of government. While there Locke travelled a great deal sometimes for his own safety and worked on two projects. First, he the life and works of john locke an english philosopher work on the Essay. Second, he wrote a work entitled Epistola de Tolerantia, which was published anonymously in 1689. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688-1689 Locke was able to return to England.

He published both the Essay and the Two Treatises the second anonymously shortly after his return. He initially stayed in London but soon moved to the home of Francis and Damaris Masham in the small village of Oates, Essex.

Damaris Masham, who was the daughter of a notable philosopher named Ralph Cudworth, had become acquainted with Locke several years before. During this period Locke kept busy working on politics, toleration, philosophy, economics, and educational theory.

John Locke (1632—1704)

Locke engaged in a number of controversies during his life, including a notable one with Jonas Proast over toleration. Stillingfleet, in addition to being a powerful political and theological figure, was an astute and forceful critic.

The two men debated a number of the positions in the Essay in a series of published letters. In his later years Locke devoted much of his attention to theology. His major work in this field was The Reasonableness of Christianity, published again anonymously in 1695.

This work was controversial because Locke argued that many beliefs traditionally believed to be mandatory for Christians were unnecessary. Locke argued for a highly ecumenical form of Christianity. Closer to the time of his death Locke wrote a work on the Pauline Epistles. The work was unfinished, but published posthumously.

A short work on miracles also dates from this time and was published posthumously. Locke suffered from health problems for most of his adult life. In particular, he had respiratory ailments which were exacerbated by his visits to London where the air quality was very poor.

His health took a turn for the worse in 1704 and he became increasingly debilitated. He died on 28 October 1704 while Damaris Masham was reading him the Psalms. He was buried at High Laver, near Oates. He wrote his own epitaph which was both humble and forthright. He reports that they were able to make little headway on this topic and that they very quickly met with a number of confusions and difficulties.

  • Without general terms and classes we would be faced with the impossible task of trying to know a vast world of particulars;
  • He also postulated, contrary to Cartesian and Christian philosophy, that the mind was a "tabula rasa" or "blank slate" and that people are born without innate ideas;
  • For I thought that the first Step towards satisfying the several Enquiries, the Mind of Man was apt to run into, was, to take a Survey of our own Understandings, examine our own Powers, and see to what Things they were adapted.

Locke realized that to make progress on this topic it was first necessary to examine something more fundamental: We need to know how we acquire knowledge. We also need to know which areas of inquiry we are well suited to and which are epistemically closed to us, that is, which areas are such that we could not know them even in principle.

We further need to know what knowledge consists in. Locke thinks that it is only once we understand our cognitive capabilities that we can suitably direct our researches into the world.

In Book I Locke rules out one possible origin of our knowledge. He argues that our knowledge cannot have been innate.

  1. In this book he seeks to give an account of how even ideas like God, infinity, and space could have been acquired through our perceptual access to the world and our mental operations.
  2. These two are the Fountains of Knowledge, from whence all the Ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring. Similarly revelations about matters of fact do not produce as much certainty as having the experience oneself.
  3. But, for this to work, it was important that the person who is rewarded or punished is the same person as the one who lived virtuously or lived sinfully. Locke disputes this picture on a number of historical grounds.
  4. One volume on epistemology and one on metaphysics. Indeed, on one occasion Locke participated in a very delicate surgical operation which Ashley credited with saving his life.
  5. But when I claim that it smells a certain earthy kind of way, this just means that its fundamental features are capable of producing the idea of the earthy smell in my mind. In January 1649, just half a mile away from Westminster School, Charles was beheaded on the order of Cromwell.

This sets up Book II in which Locke argues that all of our ideas come from experience. In this the life and works of john locke an english philosopher he seeks to give an account of how even ideas like God, infinity, and space could have been acquired through our perceptual access to the world and our mental operations.

Book III is something of a digression as Locke turns his attention to language and the role it plays in our theorizing. Finally, Book IV discusses knowledge, belief, and opinion.

Locke argues that knowledge consists of special kinds of relations between ideas and that we should regulate our beliefs accordingly. According to Locke, ideas are the fundamental units of mental content and so play an integral role in his explanation of the human mind and his account of our knowledge.

Locke was not the first philosopher to give ideas a central role; Descartes, for example, had relied heavily on them in explaining the human mind. Ideas are the sole entities upon which our minds work. On one reading, ideas are mental objects. The thought is that when an agent perceives an external world object like an apple there is some thing in her mind which represents that apple.

So when an agent considers an apple what she is really doing is thinking about the idea of that apple. On a different reading, ideas are mental actions. The thought here is that when an agent perceives an apple she is really perceiving the apple in a direct, unmediated way. The idea is the mental act of making perceptual contact with the external world object.

In recent years, most commentators have adopted the first of these two readings. But this debate will be important in the discussion of knowledge below. Finding specific targets, however, might not be that important given that much of what Locke seeks to do in Book I is motivate and make plausible the alternative account of idea acquisition that he offers in Book II. The nativist view which Locke attacks in Book I holds that human beings have mental content which is innate in the mind.

This means that there are certain ideas units of mental content which were neither acquired via experience nor constructed by the mind out of ideas received in experience. The most popular version of this position holds that there are certain ideas which God planted in all minds at the moment of their creation.

  • He was credited with saving Shaftesbury's life after a liver infection became life-threatening;
  • And particular governments might institute rules governing property acquisition and distribution;
  • Mixed modes, on the other hand, involve combining together simple ideas of more than one kind.

Locke attacks both the view that we have any innate principles for example, the whole is greater than the part, do unto others as you would have done unto you, etc. He also uses evidence from travel literature to point out that many non-Europeans deny what were taken to be innate moral maxims and that some groups even lack the idea of a God. Locke takes the fact that not all humans have these ideas as evidence that they were not implanted by God in humans minds, and that they are therefore acquired rather than innate.

This makes it sound as though the mind is nothing prior to the advent of ideas. He makes it clear that the mind has any number of inherent capacities, predispositions, and inclinations prior to receiving any ideas from sensation. His anti-nativist point is just that none of these is triggered or exercised until the mind receives ideas from sensation.

Idea Acquisition In Book II Locke offers his alternative theory of how the human mind comes to be furnished with the ideas it has. Every day we think of complex things like orange juice, castles, justice, numbers, and motion. In that, all our Knowledge is founded; and from that it ultimately derives itself. These two are the Fountains of Knowledge, from whence all the Ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring. In the above passage Locke allows for two distinct types of experience.

Outer experience, or sensation, provides us with ideas from the traditional five senses. Sight gives us ideas of colors, hearing gives us ideas of sounds, and so on.

John Locke

Thus, my idea of a particular shade of green is a product of seeing a fern. And my idea of a particular tone is the product of my being in the vicinity of a piano while it was being played. Inner experience, or reflection, is slightly more complicated.

Locke thinks that the human mind is incredibly active; it is constantly performing what he calls operations.

  1. Most of these focus on the crucial role seemingly played by memory.
  2. First, Locke thinks that if any proposition, even one which purports to be divinely revealed, clashes with the clear evidence of reason then it should not be believed.
  3. For proponents of the mechanical philosophy it would be the number and arrangement of the material corpuscles which composed the body. If one fails to use words with the meaning that most people attach to them, one will fail to communicate effectively with others.
  4. If I chop down trees in an unclaimed forest and use the wood to fashion a table, then that table will be mine. These ideas we get from experience.

For example, I often remember past birthday parties, imagine that I was on vacation, desire a slice of pizza, or doubt that England will win the World Cup. Locke believes that we are able to notice or experience our mind performing these actions and when we do we receive ideas of reflection. These are ideas such as memory, imagination, desire, doubt, judgment, and choice.

But many of my ideas are not simple ideas. My idea of a glass of orange juice or my idea of the New York subway system, for example, could not be classed a simple ideas. Locke calls ideas like these complex ideas. His view is that complex ideas are the product of combining our simple ideas together in various ways.

  • The nominal essences, by contrast, are known and are the best way we have to understand individual substances;
  • In 1666 Lord Ashley, one of the richest men in England, came to Oxford in order to drink some medicinal waters there;
  • It does not seem to have a clear parallel in contemporary metaphysics, and it is sometimes thought to be a mere catch-all category for things which are neither substances nor relations;
  • Locke offers two considerations in this regard;
  • The Edict of Nantes promulgated by Henry IV in 1598 was in force, and so there was a degree of religious toleration in France.